No.43 A love of trees
By Charles Barber | Newsletter No. 43 June 2013

Editors note. This poem was written as a sponsored fund raising marathon over one 24 hour period. To sponsor please visit  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CharlesBarber1 Enjoy!

A Love of Trees

by Charles Barber

 

Perhaps it all began back in my childhood

When as a kid, aged about 7 or 8,

My brother decided to model me,

(Having just acquired a new camera)

As his daft younger brother,

Hugging a tree.

Of course it is only the photo I remember,

Now lost in a distant attic, or buried at a dump,

But still the connection remains,

And a part of me will always be

Somehow connected to the trees.

 

Other early memories crowd in on me,

A walk on holiday, in which I lagged behind

And went the wrong side of the fence,

And became separated from my parents,

Yet was not scared, in truth enjoyed the freedom

Of wandering lost amongst the trees,

Carelessly exploring the wood’s secrets,

Only, of course, revealed to me.

 

Or later when a bit older,

Lying in the dappled shade

Of our birch tree grove at the bottom of our garden,

Looking up at a perfect summer sky

Reading aloud the poems of Gerard Manly Hopkins,

Believing that I was really communing with nature.

Oh the sweet glorious innocence of youth!

 

And then a long ago bike ride,

Down numerous country lanes,

Overhang by guardian branches,

Cycling away from problems I didn’t understand,

Till at last I found an oak tree to sit against,

Relaxed my mind and body against its rough protective bark,

Till I was not quite sure whether it was me or the tree,

That decided to go to Hong Kong.

 

Back in England, those same problems and insecurities,

Led to the dreaded black cloud of depression,

And a lovely lady named Peta,

Using her skilled therapeutic skills,

To help me out of my prison.

I still remember the most important dream

(Or at least that is how it seems to me),

I was walking through a barren burnt landscape,

And then suddenly, there were numerous tree seedlings,

Stretching as far as the eye could see,

Little signs of hope, joy and survival

Sprouting from the scorched, forgiving ground.

 

So, when many years later, my dear wife

(who incidentally Peta introduced me to),

Picked up a copy of The Ecologist for free in London,

Thinking it might interest me,

And within it there was an article by Daniel Elkan

About the work of Mike Hands

To find a way to prevent the destruction of the rainforests

By helping slash and burn farmers farm in a more sustainable manner,

By growing crops within alleys of a certain type of tree,

 

Maize in Inga alley. Photo Gaston Bityo 2012.

 

It somehow felt like something,

I needed to be involved in,

Which is why, as Rainforest Saver needs all the money it can find,

I’m writing this damn fool poem,

So please if you’ve got this far,

And wish to help both poor farmers and disappearing rainforests,

Sponsor me, or make a donation to the charity

And/or check out the web site

At www.rainforestsaver.org .

 

For this may not be much of a poem,

And I may not be much of a poet,

But it’s written with a deep respect for those on the front line,

Sowing the seeds, planting the trees, training the farmers

To become the saviours and guardians of the rainforests,

For this is a battle to be fought with spades and sweat

That we cannot afford to lose.

In these difficult economic times,

When banks are being bailed out,

We risk losing sight of perhaps the biggest bank of all,

The rainforests store a huge bank of carbon,

Which if lost, would have devastating consequences to our climate,

And a huge bank of species diversity,

Which once squandered can never be regained,

Which would have serious consequences for the future

Of medicine

And our food security.

 

Rainforest, Honduras. Photo Tiiu Miller 2009.

 

So next time you bite into a banana or piece of chocolate,

Spare a thought for the habitat from which they come,

For they may still hold disease resistant varieties

That we may need in the future,

And spare a thought for the toucan and the capuchin monkey,

 

 

Toucan. Photo Rick Seal.

 

The scarlet macaw and the jaguar,

The sloth and the giant anteater,

That have as much of a right to some sort of life

As you and I,

And then spare a thought

For the tropical trees, racing to reach the light,

That host orchids and bromeliads,

That breathe in the dangerous carbon dioxide

And breathe out the sweet oxygen

That we all need to live,

And that help to recycle the forests nutrients

So that some of the most diverse and vibrant eco-systems

Can exist on some of the thinnest, poorest soils,

And then consider how much of this wondrous marvel

The cleverest, most wasteful creature on our planet

Has already destroyed.

 

And then, if you haven’t yet done so,

Find out what Rainforest Saver are doing to help save them

At www.rainforestsaver.org .

 

Perhaps at some point in the past an adventurous red squirrel

Might have completed his own squirrel marathon

And leapt from the mighty stout-hearted oak

To the elegant rowan and thence to the ambivalent ash,

To the many-berried elder, to the intellectual elm,

To the graceful swaying birch, to the pungent pine

And on to the brooding alder, to the whispering weeping willow,

To the proud upright poplar, to the worldly majestic beech

And down to the plucky hazel and on to the generous chestnut,

Then to the shiny holly, next to the friendly field maple,

And even perhaps to the wise old yew,

Carrying on through numerous variations of these species

From the spot now called John O’Groats

To the place we now call Land’s End,

 

But that would have been before

The humans arrived.

 

First we plundered the woods,

To clear land for farming,

To build houses and ships,

To make furniture and tools.

All decent, reasonable reasons

To cut down trees.

Yet we were profligate.

Industrial agriculture ripped up numerous hedges,

Industrial forestry gave us monotone plantations,

And now so few ancient woods remain

To remind us of how much we’ve lost.

Yet we were lucky, our soils were good enough

To withstand the loss of so much tree cover

And still produce crops.

Not so in Iceland, which rich in forests

When the Vikings came,

Now has a cold desert in its middle

Where almost nothing will grow.

 

Just as well they have plenty of fish!

 

But now let’s have a break

From the mourning of long-dead forests.

Let’s celebrate the wonder of the living,

Taking a ride on the back a mythical bird guide,

That can travel the world,

Telling you stories

Of some of the world’s most marvellous trees.

 

“Look down from this chilly height

To Greenland’s barren tundra,

Take these extra powerful binoculars,

And you will see a plant with two leaves,

Ridiculously big for its size,

With either red or yellow catkins,

Depending on its sex.

Yes it is small isn’t it?

Salix herbacea, the smallest woody plant in the willow family

Grows to heights of 1 to 6 centimetres

With leaves between 1 and two centimetres

And is reckoned by some humans

To be the smallest tree in the world.

 

Salix herbacea (The Snowbed Willow) – Photo Opiola Jerzy on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salix_herbacea Creative Commons License.

 

 

Yes, it is cold, isn’t it?

So let’s head south to Africa

To visit the strangest looking of trees.

The upside down tree can look,

When it’s shed its leaves

As if it has roots, not branches,

Shimmering in the heat-stilled air.

It’s huge, preposterous-looking trunk

Can store up to 32,000 gallons

To help it survive the drought conditions

In which it thrives,

And its nutritional fruits

With hints of grapefruit, pear and vanilla.

They can be eaten fresh, added to porridge

Or sold to pay school fees.

Yes, this is the mighty improbable Baobab

And you can find some wonderful pictures on the web.

 

Andansonia digitata (The Baobab Tree) – Photo Quinn Norton on  http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baobab Creative Commons License.

 

Now we’ll turn east. Let me show you something remarkable

Amongst the Tian Shu mountains of China.

Can you see those trees with the glorious yellow fan-shaped leaves,

Clinging steadfastly to the banks of streams

Or the edges of cliffs. These shining jewels

In their autumn attire are none other

Than Ginkgo biloba or the Maidenhair Tree.

These living fossils belong to a family

That pre-dates the dinosaurs,

And some individual specimens

Are believed to be more than 2,500 years old.

Their ability to withstand changing conditions

Is helped by embedded buds near the base of trunk

That can grow back when much of the tree is ruined,

And by aerial roots on long branches

That can produce a new stem if touching the ground.

Yet even these impressive attributes

Can not fully explain

The survival of 6 Ginkgo trees

After the atomic blast of Hiroshama.

Though hideously charred at the time

They now stand as healthy exemplars

Of nature’s strength and endurance.

 

 

Ginkgo leaves in autumn – Photo Joe Schneid on  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_bilobaCreative Commons License.

 

 

Now let’s fly south

To a land that’s sometimes called

Down Under.

120 odd miles north-west of Sydney

In the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area,

Until 1994, they’d merely found fossil evidence

Of a certain tree in the family Araucariaceae,

So imagine their excitement when at the bottom of a steep-sided gorge

They found actual living specimens

Of a plant, who’s oldest fossil

Dated from 200 million years ago.

 

Confusingly called the Wollemi Pine,

Though not a member of the pine family,

I like to think that the aborigines,

Who’s artistic cave paintings in the area

Date from a mere 4,000 years ago,

Knew of the location of these longed for gems

But preferred to keep it a secret.

 

After all the white man

Has not always had a good record

Of looking after nature’s treasures.

 

 

Wollemia nobilis (The Wollemi Pine), protected by a cage at a Botanic Garden. Photo Securiger on

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wollemia Creative Commons License.

 

But I can feel you’re tiring now,

All these facts and figures can be a bit exhausting,

And Australia’s a long way to travel,

Even when flying by mythical bird.

I’ll return you to your native land,

If that is, you come from the place

Computers call the United Kingdom,

And let you rest under your favourite tree,

The one you call the English Oak,

Even though it’s spread over numerous European countries,

Even reaching to Russia,

And revered by many peoples.

But you English have no compassion,

The oak tree is often placed

Beside village greens

Where you play this strange game called cricket.

The oak is therefore forced to watch

Through the golden days of summer,

People misusing bits of his arboreal brother,

The supple willow,

Now merely a plaything of you humans,

Bits of his body,

Merely sticks to hit a ball.

 

But it is evening now

And the sixes, fours and catches

Are being re-lived in the nearby pub,

So you can sleep in peace under the oak’s leafy glade,

But before you do,

There’s time for a bedtime story.

This is a tale from the Haida First Nation People,

Who live in and around Vancouver Island.

It is said that when the earth was very young

Their God Tetl flew around the earth,

Deciding where to place all the different kinds of people.

He found Vancouver island,

Where there were many fish in the rivers,

Many berries in the trees,

And many birds singing the sweetest songs,

And decided to place a robust red-skinned, handsome people there.

 

At first all was fine but then the people began to grow restless,

Wanting more and more,

Even though there was already plenty.

Tetl warned the people to change their ways,

But after a while the people forgot his warning,

The quarrelling turned to fighting

And the fighting turned into a terrible war.

Tetl was furious, and as a black cloud covered the land,

He turned all of the people to cedar trees.

 

Many years passed

And he decided to give red men

Another chance on Vancouver Island

But warned them what had happened before.

Now the Haida First Nation people,

View the cedars as their brothers,

Make use of the cedars to build their houses, canoes and totem poles,

Revere them as part of Tetl’s wise creation,

And if around the camp fire two young braves

Get too heated and are about to fight,

An elder will point to the distant cedar trees

And they’ll usually make up.

 

After all trees should be respected and loved

But most people

Wouldn’t want to turn into one.

 

Now sleep, tired traveller

For tomorrow we visit the rainforests.

 

Are you ready for the jungles of Borneo?

Now we will fly with the sun at our backs

Till we reach the green uneven blanket

That is so sadly beginning to unravel.

They keep discovering new amazing species here,

Such as a frog with no lungs,

The world’s longest insect

And a ninja slug, (such a wonderful name)

That fires love darts to its mate.

But the huge forests are rapidly shrinking.

It takes less time to fly over the blanket

Before you discover mile after mile of palm oil plantations,

Which makes you wonder how much longer

There will be much of a home

For the orang-u-tan and the pygmy elephant

For the Sumatran rhino and the clouded leopard.

 

It seems amazing that a product that is not really needed,

Which we can survive easily without

Can cause so much destruction,

But environmentally aware citizens are fighting back,

Activists in New Zealand and Australia

Have persuaded Cadburys to remove palm oil from its products there,

So next time you go shopping, you could check out the situation in the UK.

There is such a thing as environmentally sourced Palm Oil,

Taken from degraded land rather than logged rainforest

But it needs to be labelled CSPO.

Let’s find out if there is a more international campaign

To reduce the uses of palm oil,

And to put pressure on companies

That care only for profits

And not a fig about the rainforests.

 

Now I’m going to surprise you,”

And here the mythical bird,

Who seems something of an environmental activist,

And who you might even have forgot

You were riding,

Gives an appealingly saucy chuckle.

“Have you heard of Chico Mendez?

The poor rubber tapper, who fought so valiantly

For the rubber tappers’ rights,

And the protection of the Rainforests

In 1980s Brazil,

And who was assassinated

In December 1988.

Can you see those rubber trees?

And now can you see that building

Nestling neatly in the rainforest?

This is a factory that I think Chico

Would have approved of.

 

The factory here,

In northwestern Acre state

Produces 100 million condoms a year,

And not only helps Brazil in its successful campaign against Aids

But also helps protect the local rainforest.

Chico Mendes must be smiling up above

 

For his Reserve provides the rubber trees,

Which produce the only natural latex condoms in the world.

Rubber-tapping as you probably know,

Does not kill the trees,

But merely harvests a natural product,

So the forests are protected

And 550 rubber tappers can earn a decent wage.

Only in Brazil

Can the act of making love

Be of such a benefit to rainforest conservation.

 

But let us turn away

From those sexy, environmentally friendly

Brazilian lovers,

Move north

And travel half way

Up the sinuous snake

Of Central America,

Till we land on a beach in Honduras.

Here, dear reader, I shall ask you

To get off my aching back,

And bathe your sweating weary bodies

In the warm, welcoming water

Of the Carribean.

You might notice a few older mangroves

And some young ones, recently planted,

Thanks to the owner of the Reserve,

On whose land you’ll now tread softly.

 

I’ll pass you over to a human guide,

Who will lead you gently

Into the heart of a quebrada.

The quebradas are deep ravines,

Where remnants of the primary rainforest

Have survived, protected by their inaccesability,

And now, it seems to me,

Their abundant variety and vitality

Is spilling out over the rim of the ravine

And into this precious Reserve.

Take a stroll and you might come across

Five species of butterflies in a ten metre stretch.

Look up and you might find Capuchin Monkeys

Squabbling over mangoes or figs,

Or perhaps if you’re lucky

You might see a family of toucans,

Flying casually by.

 

flowers and fruit tree

Heliconia flowers from the Reserve and a student studying a tropical fruit tree. Photos Tiiu Imbi Miller 2009.

 

But be a bit more wary down in the quebrada,

Though I’m sure your guide will keep you safe,

The arching palms and other trees,

Some entwined with fat lianas,

Some sporting buttresses,

Close over the quebrada’s walls,

Shading out the tropical light.

In the gloom of the rainforest floor

Your guide will be the first to spot the boa constrictor,

And might even show you the pawprints

Of a black jaguar.

Such possible encounters add a certain frisson,

But don’t be too anxious,

Both snake and cat are wisely more scared of Man

Than you need be of them.

 

At the top of the mountain,

You will climb out of the quebrada,

Be offered a delicious fresh tropical fruit drink,

And after a suitable rest,

Be invited to view an Inga Demonstration Farm.

Here beans, maize, pineapples and cassava

Will be grown in tidy Inga alleys,

Which recycle the earth’s nutrients year after year,

Leading to bountiful harvests and a better life

For the farmer and his family.

Pineapple grown in an Inga alley. Photo Tiiu Miller2013.

Here there will be regular open days

To teach surrounding farmers about the new technique,

And in time poor tropical farmers will learn

To value the Inga hedge.

This means less rainforest will be destroyed

By continual burning

And more will be saved

For future generations.

 

The great reduction of erosion also means

That the coral reefs beyond the mangroves

Will not be damaged by silt.

 

Waves breaking over coral reef, N. coast of Honduras. Photo Guillermo Valle. 

 

In time we hope they will recover their former glory.

A restored forest, a settled and prosperous farming community

And a repaired reef, teeming with fish,

Will makes this Reserve

A beacon of sustainable tourism.

 

(Two days pass, dear reader, in which

You have a wonderful time at the Funavid Reserve).*

But now it is time to climb back on your favourite mythical bird

For one last big adventure.

 

*We hope that our partner Dr Dodson, who is in charge of the Funavid Reserve, will soon be ready to receive visitors, so if you’re interested in visiting his tropical paradise, please keep an eye on the Rainforest Saver web site.

 

“Now we must fly back across the Atlantic

To a land called the Cameroons.

I want you to meet a true hero

Of the Inga Movement,

And see how many farmers

Are now taking up the system.

Gaston Bityo, a farmer and botanist,

Who runs the NGO Volunteers Serving Development

To help farmers farm in a sustainable way,

Found the Rainforest Saver web site,

Gaston Bityo Delor, giving instructions about Inga alley cropping.

 

Contacted Tiiu, our Secretary,

And initially with just one Inga tree for seeds,

Began raising seedlings,

And demonstrating to local farmers

How the new technique worked.

He now has many farmers

In different parts of the country

Trying the new system,

And many, many more

Who are very keen to try it.

 

Rainforest Saver has helped him to create

The beginnings of a beautiful project.

He now has a truck to transport seedlings,

Which has made a big difference.

Yet a truck needs diesel

And local nurseries near the farmers

Need a paid worker to grow and look after the seedlings.

Gaston is doing a brilliant job with limited resources

But is still dependent on Rainforest Saver

To keep his project on track.

 

Inga nursery at Bizang. Photo by Gaston Bityo 2012.

 

So please if you can, give Rainforest Saver

And all its partners in Honduras and the Cameroons

A helping hand.”

 

So saying, the mythical bird vanishes

As suddenly as it appeared.

 

My love of trees led me to get involved with RFS

But it is also a sense of injustice that keeps me committed to it.

Slash and burn farmers usually have no land rights

And get pushed onto the worst land for farming.

They have had a raw deal for far too long.

The trees and in particular the tropical rainforests

Have also been continually exploited.

Much of our planet is sick,

But I see each Inga seedling,

That we can help our partners plant

As a kind of health-giving arboreal injection

To help heal our ailing world.

 

This is not much of a poem,

And I am not much of a poet

But the work of Rainforest Saver

Needs all the help it can get!

 

Charles. Photo Tiiu Miller.

 

For more information about how Rainforest Saver is helping poor tropical farmers farm more sustainably and how this can help preserve rainforests, browse this web site.